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Rustic and friendly, yet witty and quirky

Cellist Lynn Harrell's Cerritos recital reminds all that Yo-Yo Ma isn't the only distinguished name in the field.

January 29, 2007|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Not long ago, there was plenty of room for several world-class cellists to share the spotlight -- Mstislav Rostropovich, Lynn Harrell, Yo-Yo Ma, Janos Starker, to name a few. But as the classical record industry shrank and crossover became a required activity, the field seems to have been narrowed to one -- and it won't take long to guess which one.

So although there was a good-sized display ad for Ma and plenty of CDs bearing his name at the Cerritos Borders shop, there was not a hint that his equally distinguished colleague, Harrell, would be playing a recital Friday night at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts just a short walk away.

Harrell's public profile may be lower now than it was in the last century, but he is hardly out of the loop, for a new Harrell recording of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic came out last month as a DG Concerts download on iTunes. Soon, he may not need the old promotional ways after all.

Harrell's most winning quality over the years -- a rustic, friendly manner of tone quality and phrasing -- was on display in Beethoven's Seven Variations on "Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen" from "The Magic Flute." In the virtually literal Leonard Rose / Jules Delsart cello transcription of Franck's ever-adaptable Sonata in A Major, Harrell put aside any earlier reticence and attacked the second movement fiercely.

In his pre-performance remarks, Harrell spoke of what he thought was a sense of "great anger" in the Debussy Sonata for Cello and Piano, but what came through most strikingly were the piece's humor and quirky, mercurial changes in mood. He then dedicated the Chopin Polonaise Brilliante Opus 3 to his week-old son, Noah, pulling off the distinct polonaise rhythm with a passionate lilt, and finished with a rapt treatment of a transcription of a Schubert song, "Night and Dreams."

Harrell's pianist, Victor Santiago Asuncion, sported a rather flamboyant physical style to go with his luxurious Kent Nagano-style long hair, but his elegant, liquid playing stayed well within the bounds of an accompanying role.

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